Our family recently had the opportunity to travel to the beautiful country of Guatemala together with other members of several local churches to work with Bethel Ministries International. We distributed wheelchairs, built houses, visited potential future recipients of Bethel’s services, toured Bethel’s facilities, and did some sightseeing along the way.
The houses we built were simple: Single-room dwellings on a concrete floor with a covered porch for cooking. Simple by North American standards, but a major upgrade compared to the homes in which many people were living with their dirt floors, walls made of scrap wood and metal, and roofs that leaked. We also assembled cookstoves and bunk beds for each home. Our work was not officially complete until we prayed a blessing over the home and family and left them with a Bible.
The families we visited and for whom we helped build houses all happened to be people of faith so the Bible was already a familiar book. They thanked God for us and His blessings, including the abundant blessings they had already received even before we arrived. When I heard them give thanks for all their blessings, I couldn’t help but ask, “What blessings?! You do (or did) not have adequate housing. You don’t have a secure source of income or food. The quality of your drinking water is questionable. Access to even minimal healthcare is an unaffordable luxury.” Yet these new friends of ours were already thankful long before we arrived. They gave thanks for their family. They gave thanks for healings of ailments. They gave thanks for God’s provision in small ways that allowed them to continue for one more day.
It’s ironic that I had to go to a developing country to learn a lesson in gratitude from people who, materially speaking, have much less than me. They see God at work in ways I’m quick to overlook and dismiss as insignificant.
It’s tempting for me to go to a place like Guatemala with the intention of showing the people there how things should be done and what they should believe. It’s frighteningly easy for me to think that Jesus is waiting for me to show up in Guatemala so that He can get to work there through me. While I’m confident God indeed worked through my family, the fact of the matter is that God was working in Guatemala and the lives of the people we met there long before we showed up and He will continue to do so long after we’ve been forgotten. It reminds me how it’s wise to go through life watching for how the Spirit of Jesus is already at work in my world and then prayerfully seeing what I can do to join Him in bringing light and hope to places in which He allows me to also have some influence.